Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy: Personal Reflections

In the days following RG’s creating change through family philanthropy retreat last month, I took some time to reflect and record  my thoughts. here is a taste!
– Jessie Spector, RG Staff and Member
From my blog

family philanthropy retreat: some reflections
recently resource generation hosted the 4th Creating Change Through Family Philanthropy retreat, a 40 person conference for young people who are involved in their families’ philanthropy or who want to be. i was truly moved by the weekend. it was pretty darn incredible. and i was equally as challenged by the question: how does philanthropy exist in a framework that is working towards true liberation, self-determination, and the redistribution of wealth and power? can it?
the night i got home from the retreat i felt so much passion. i was deeply humbled by the experience- by the complex stories of everyone there, the million little ways in which people are doing what they can, in their particular lives, to affect change and work for justice. what you make of life is so much more complicated than simply you– it’s about the messages you’ve been handed down, the legacy you’re expected to carry on, the demands of “success” by those around you, the life you’ve come to know and also are trying to question.
i also re-remembered how much of this work actually has nothing to do with money. it has to do with the dynamics that money creates….often dynamics that go so far back and so deep that we loose sight of their direct ties to the money itself. but they are ever-present. power dynamics. definitions of self-worth. teachings of what it means to be good, to be successful, to be smart. expectations and prophecies to fulfill. the squashing of imagination, of creativity and risk-taking. and the fear. so much fear. this shit is scary. trying to break cycles, live life differently, envision the world transformed…it’s hard to stand strong in the face of pushback and uncertainty and pressure. or even know what “standing strong” always means when facing tough choices.
as i take more time to reflect on the retreat, i continue to be in awe of what truly “creating change through family philanthropy” can mean, what people who participate in it every day are working to make it. i also continue to wonder about the existence of philanthropy as we know it, when, to me, it doesn’t actually have a place in the just world we’re fighting for. janine lee, president of the southern partners fund and keynote speaker at the retreat, brought up this MLK jr quote:
“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”
so i wonder, how do we do this work simultaneously? how do we 110% work towards a vision of a world without the injustice that makes philanthropy necessary, while practicing philanthropy ourselves? are there ways to do this? there need to be… because i am (slowly but surely) learning that change takes time, patience, and strategy. more importantly, it takes everyone— not just the folks who are most directly affected by injustice, not just the activists that live off the grid, not just the young wealthy folks whose parents are on board with redistributing their entire trust funds. no, true change needs everyone to do what they can, where they are, to work towards justice.
but… what practices of philanthropy are non-reformist reforms of the system? by that i mean, how can we rise up to the responsibility of philanthropy if it’s what we’re handed, and use that responsibility to chip away at the system of philanthropy itself rather than re-empower it? how do we- can we?- work within philanthropy while trying to create a world where it doesn’t exist? seriously folks, i’m wondering- do you have thoughts?
to stand in our own power in this work is fucking nuanced and fucking scary. embracing the power in our privilege while trying to totally overhaul the balance of power socially/politically/economically/globally…is.SO.complex. but damn. if everyone at the CCTFP retreat, if everyone in the RG community and beyond in our networks could fully take on the task of the responsibilities we have access to…we could help shift things in a major, major way. this community has so much potential, and i really saw us grappling with it at the retreat. and that felt pretty neat.